Independence, or "Is Stress a Choice?"

July 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

4th of July-0101_pe It's funny how two separate events can come together to form an epiphany.

I read somewhere that "Stress is a Choice."  What a powerful statement.  

Stress is a huge part of people's lives on a daily basis.  Making ends meet, keeping schedules, doing the right thing when you sometimes don't know exactly what the right thing is.  We are stressed when things don't work, or when we can't figure them out.  I sometimes think about how our grandparents handled stress.  On one hand, they had more stress related to certain basic living concerns such as health, which today are alleviated by the incredible medical technology we now have.  But on the other hand, I look around the house and half of what I see - iPad, cell phones, USB thingies, electric everything, laptops, ceiling fans, microwaves, air conditioning, fancy faucets, remote controls, and on and on - things that can and do break down - things that require figuring out - things that cause us constant stress - they didn't even exist back then.  My grandparents just had to pay their electric bill , the gas bill, and the paper boy, not cell phone fees, account fees, billing fees, health care insurance, co-pays, cable bills, auto insurance, life insurance, and again on and on.  They only had to keep track of their savings account, not IRA accounts, 401K accounts, health care spending accounts, certificates of deposit, brokerage accounts, etc.  

Of course, all these new "things" have presumably made life better for us.  But they add stress.  

Last Thursday was the 4th of July, a day when we Americans celebrate our independence from an oppressive government over 200 years ago.  (The irony of that statement I'll save for another post.)  I brought my camera up to the park to relax and take in the wonderful fireworks display put on by my community.  That evening was stress-free - at least up until time to fight traffic to get home.  Many folks around the nation put their stress on hold while they grilled in their yards, went camping, and generally enjoyed the holiday.  

As I watched the smiles on so many faces, I wondered if stress truly is a choice.  Probably the biggest source of stress in our world today, at least for most of us working class folk, is the need to make a living, to raise and support our family.  We subject ourselves to jobs we hate, bosses we can't stand, taxes that are unfair, wages that barely keep us even, and work hours that give us little time for anything else.  We live in areas that are crowded with lots of traffic, that have high costs of living, and where neighbors are mean and have dogs that bark all night.  Why do we do these things?

I have concluded that we do indeed saddle ourselves with a great deal of stress by choice, although there are several factors at play.  Part of the problem is education - not formal education, just the lack of knowledge about the world.  In other words, we choose a particular job because it happens to be in the set of jobs about which we know.  No one ever clued us in to the fact that one could earn a good living by designing clothing, or running an insurance business, or flying a helicopter for tour companies, or any of hundreds of jobs that some folks enjoy while others never heard of them.  Our schools don't teach about what to do AFTER we graduate.  So, we often end up "falling into" a job, not selecting one.  We didn't know what to look for, where to look for it, and how to prepare for it -- so we take what we know.  

The same holds true for where we live.  We start out living where we grew up, and often stay there for good reason - our family is there.  But often we move, and we move to where we know.  The fact is, there are many places in this world, and many if not most involve less stress.  There are many places where we could live better for less money, where there are fewer cars, and where neighbors know each other.  But, we don't know about such places, and we are afraid of what we don't know.  Knowledge.

Actually, making a living is much harder than it needs to be, partly because we have convinced ourselves that we need what we don't need.  I prove this to myself every time I travel.  When I'm home, I swear I am a slave to my 21st century lifestyle.  I don't know how I could survive without Google and its ilk.  Yet, when I am in a campground, or hiking a canyon, or just sitting on a resort patio having a coffee, I find I am surviving quite nicely without the TV, the cell phone, the iPad.  Yes, I bring them, but in many places they are useless, and I don't care.  Reading a book is an enjoyable and relaxing experience.  It's all mental, and it's a choice.  What'll it be, independence, or stress?

As always, I'd love to hear you take.

 


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